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Gavin Bate Everest 2002 Expedition

APRIL 18 2002 Advance Base Camp, Everest.

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Yesterday was an important day for Will and I, our first foray up to 7000 meters and camp 1on the north col of Everest. The day before we had decided to do a little recce with about 15kgs and dump the stuff in a duffle bag at the bottom of the huge headwall that rises 2000' sheer from the head of the glacier up to the col itself.

From the North Col we will then climb several thousand feet straight up to where the north ridge joins the north-east ridge. But lets not talk about that now, eh?

Anyway Will and I had been conserving our energies and acclimatizing carefully down here at ABC. The thing is that we are at just above 21,000' which is more or less the maximum you can really acclimatize at. Above ABC you start degenerating, fast, so we were in no rush to go up to the North Col until we both felt ready. Also we had been watching people come into ABC, have one days rest and then rush to the North Col. Why, we asked, especially when later on in the day those same people could be seen dispiritedly stumbling back down again, headaches like vices, and learning a big lesson on Everest. You just can't hurry it.

The Russians who had plied us with whisky the other night succumbed to North Col fever but they are strong as oxen. With hands like peat shovels and a lifetime of hardship etched no their faces, they filled their sacks and clambered up to the North Col. Will and I met one of their team Vladimir, from the Urals, and he looked as if someone was just insistently tapping on his head with a two foot wide spoon, as if trying to crack open an egg.

Old Vlad the Impaler didn't look too happy. But, you gotta hand it to them, they got there. So Will and I were very happy to see that our first few hours to the North Col, up the length of the moraine along the edge of the glacier and then onto the glacier itself, were entirely without any pain to the head. In fact we felt great!

After just one hour and forty minutes were at our duffle bag and shifting gear about to take up. From here suddenly the headwall looked a tad steep. "Look," remarked Will, "that bit there looks over 60 degrees". Thanks Will. We put on harnesses and started up.

Now the Korean Sherpas had put in some fixed line so this made things comparatively easy; but we were approaching 23,000', some of the slopes were remarkably steep and sections were like a shiny new bottle. We put in ten paces then stopped to catch breath. The sun beat down. Concentration was important. We had seen the Russians do this in over five hours and inside my head I was looking up and calculating. "Will," I yelled down, "we're making good time! Should've brought more gear with us!". Will, ever the gentleman, gave me two fingers. The last section was the proverbial sting in the tail.

There it was, the North Col, within reach but between us lay the steepest section yet. Later Will and I agreed it was 75 degrees and I knew it! Standing at the bottom I had to crane my neck completely backwards to see the top. Oh God. "Will", I shouted to gain his attention, "it's a doddle". I gave him the thumbs up. Later Will berated me with language I'm afraid I cannot repeat here. But as I climbed, forcing my cramponed boots into the softish snow to make nice big buckets to stand in, I got more and more excited. This was like summiting Aconcagua in terms of height, the highest peak in South America!

The air was thin, we were virtually alone on the hill, the sky was a deep blue and nothing was going to stop us reaching our first big Camp! Better still we were doing it all by ourselves - no Sherpas or help. Sure it was hard going but what the hell, I could see Will with that peculiar determined look on his face, like a bulldog enroute to it's bowl, ad knew he was thinking the same. I got up there and immediately dropped my rucksack and turned back to Will. We saw the view together, perched on that 23,000' ridge we could see suddenly both sides, the mountains and the panorama. Wow! Amazing stuff. "How your head?" Will asked, "mine's fine too! We're doing grand!".

Because of the shortage of real estate up on the north col, we decided to pitch our tent. Some other Sherpas were up there pitching tents for clients and the Russians gave us a wave. "You bloody well done, you strong men you! You bring whisky?" Sergei shouted across. Will and I could only laugh in amazement and wave back. Tough guys. Mind you we had climbed the headwall in just over three hours, and damn were we chuffed! We put the tent up and dumped all our gear in it. Then, clipping on with just a karabiner, we forward ran the first half of the headwall. The icy, steeper bits we stuck on a descender and rappelled down at speed. At the bottom I came up to Will. "You won't believe it, mate, 26 minutes down!".

What a fantastic day, we came into camp elated and there was Tirta our cook to greet us with smiles and crows of happiness. He is like a benevolent uncle, feeding us and watering us and boiling umpteen pots of water. Now he presented us with a huge homemade pizza! Tirta, you old devil you, how in hell did you rustle that up?

Today is rest day and tomorrow we do it again. In fact over the next week we will do the same carry about three times till Camp 1 has everything we need for the whole mountain. No overnights, no unnecessary exertions. We'll just stock our camp and then, when we're as fast and as nimble as mountain goats on that headwall, then we'll go up and spend the night and make a move to Camp 2.

Today, three of the Russians came down. Boy, they looked bad. Last night the weather really got bad and tents were knocked all over the place. You could hear the wind bowling down the valley, brace yourself for it, watch the tents go concave then spring back into shape. Those Russians must have had a bad night up on that north col. So, tomorrow another go.

We'll keep you posted.

Gavin and Will


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